Art of the Americas to World War I
- An introduction to New Spain
- Hispaniola’s early colonial art, an introduction
- Prints and Printmakers in Colonial New Spain
- The Bug That Had the World Seeing Red
- The Medici collect the Americas
- Virgin of Guadalupe
- Virgin of Guadalupe
- Defensive saints and angels in the Spanish Americas
- Elite secular art in New Spain
- Classical Architecture in Viceregal Mexico
- Hearst Chalice
- Puebla de los Ángeles and the classical architectural tradition
- La Casa del Deán in Puebla
- Mission churches as theaters of conversion in New Spain
- St. Michael the Archangel in Huejotzingo
- The convento of Acolman
- Murals from New Spain, San Agustín de Acolman
- Atrial Cross, convento San Agustín de Acolman, mid-16th century
- Atrial Cross at Acolman
- The Codex Huexotzinco
- Miguel González, The Virgin of Guadalupe
- Frontispiece of the Codex Mendoza
- Images of Africans in the Codex Telleriano Remensis and Codex Azcatitlan
- The Convento of San Nicolás de Tolentino, Actopan, Hidalgo
- Bernardino de Sahagún and collaborators, Florentine Codex
- Remembering the Toxcatl Massacre: The Beginning of the End of Aztec Supremacy
- Featherworks: The Mass of St. Gregory
- A Renaissance miniature in wood and feathers
- A shimmering saint, St. John in featherwork
- “Burning of the Idols,” in Diego Muñoz Camargo’s Description of the City and Province of Tlaxcala
- Map of Cholula, from the relaciones geográficas
- Engravings in Diego de Valadés’s Rhetorica Christiana
- The manuscripts of Luis de Carvajal
- Baltasar de Echave Ibía, The Hermits
- Mission Church, San Esteban del Rey, Acoma Pueblo
- Sebastián López de Arteaga, Marriage of the Virgin
- Cristóbal de Villalpando, View of the Plaza Mayor of Mexico City
- Talavera poblana
- Biombo with the Conquest of Mexico and View of Mexico City
- Screen with the Siege of Belgrade and Hunting Scene (Brooklyn Biombo)
- Screen with the Siege of Belgrade and Hunting Scene (or Brooklyn Biombo)
- The Virgin of the Macana and the Pueblo Revolution of 1680
- Miguel de Herrera, Portrait of a Lady
- José Campeche, the portraitist of 18th-century Puerto Rico
- José Campeche y Jordán, Portrait of Governor Ramón de Castro
- José Campeche, Exvoto de la Sagrada Familia
- Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz, Christ Consoled by Angels
- Mission San Antonio de Valero & the Alamo
- Nativity group, from Guatemala
- Jerónimo de Balbás, Altar of the Kings (Altar de los Reyes)
- Miguel Cabrera, Virgin of the Apocalypse
- Cabrera, Portrait of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
- Casta paintings: constructing identity in Spanish colonial America
- Spaniard and Indian Produce a Mestizo, attributed to Juan Rodriguez
- Church of Santa Prisca and San Sebastian, Taxco, Mexico
- Crowned nun portraits, an introduction
- Crowned Nun Portrait of Sor María de Guadalupe
- Escudos de monjas, or nuns’ badges, in New Spain
- Christ Crucified, a Hispano-Philippine ivory
- Saintly violence? Santiago in the Americas
- What does the music of heaven sound like?— St Cecilia in New Spain
Spaniard and Indian Produce a Mestizo, attributed to Juan Rodriguez
"In America people are born in diverse colors, customs, temperaments and languages. From the Spaniard and the Indian is born the mestizo, usually humble, quiet and simple." 
So states an inscription on José Joaquín Magón’s painting, The Mestizo, made in New Spain (Spanish colonial Mexico) during the second half of the eighteenth century. The painting displays a Spanish father and Indigenous mother with their son, and it belongs to a larger series of works that seek to document the inter-ethnic mixing occurring in New Spain among Europeans, indigenous peoples, Africans, and the existing mixed-race population. This genre of painting, known as pinturas de castas, or caste paintings, attempts to capture reality, yet they are largely fictions.
José Joaquín Magón, El Mestizo/The Mestizo, second half of the eighteenth century. Oil on canvas. 102 x 126 cm. Private collection.
Typically, casta paintings display a mother, father, and a child (sometimes two). This family model is possibly modeled on depictions of the Holy Family showing the Virgin Mary, saint Joseph, and Christ as a child. Casta paintings are often labeled with a number and a textual inscription that documents the mixing that has occurred. The numbers and textual inscriptions on casta paintings create a racial taxonomy, akin to a scientific taxonomy. In this way, casta paintings speak to Enlightenment concerns, specifically the notion that people can be rationally categorized based on their ethnic makeup and appearance.
Casta Painting, 18th century, oil on canvas, 148 x 104 cm (Museo Nacional del Virreinato, Mexico)
They are commonly produced in sets of sixteen, but occasionally we see sixteen vignettes on a single canvas. Costume, accouterments, activities, setting, and flora and fauna all aid in racially labeling the individuals within these works.
The first position of the casta series is always a Spanish man and an elite Indigenous woman, accompanied by their offspring: a mestizo, which denotes a person born of these two parents. As the casta series progresses and the mixing increases, some of the names used in casta paintings to label people demonstrate social anxiety over inter-ethnic mixing and can often be pejorative.
For instance, a Spaniard and a mestizo produce a castizo (“burned tree”), while a Spaniard and a morisco (a muslim who had been forced to convert to Christianity) produce an albino torna atrás (“Return-Backwards”) and a No te entiendo (“I-Don’t-Understand-You”) with a Cambuja (offspring of an Indian woman and African man) makes a tente en el aire (“Hold-Yourself-in-Mid-Air”). Indigenous peoples who chose to live outside “civilized” social norms and were not Christian were labeled mecos, or barbarians.
detail of first two groups, Casta Painting, 18th century (Museo Nacional del Virreinato, Mexico)
Casta paintings convey the perception that the more European you are, the closer to the top of the social and racial hierarchy you belong. Pure-blooded Spaniards always occupy the preeminent position in casta paintings and are often the best dressed and most “civilized.” Clearly, casta paintings convey the notion that one’s social status is tied to one’s perceived racial makeup.
Spaniard and Indian Produce a Mestizo, attributed to Juan Rodríguez Juárez, c. 1715, oil on canvas (Breamore House, Hampshire, UK)
Many famous artists, including Juan Rodríguez Juárez, Miguel Cabrera, and Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz, produced casta paintings. Rodríguez Juárez created some of the earliest casta paintings, and Spaniard and Indian Produce a Mestizo (above), which displays the same subject as Joaquín Magón’s painting , is attributed to him.
The painting displays a simple composition, with a mother and father flanking two children, one of whom is a servant carrying the couple’s baby. The indigenous mother, dressed in a beautiful huipil (traditional woman’s garment worn by indigenous women from central Mexico to parts of Central America) with lace sleeves and wearing sumptuous jewelry, turns to look at her husband as she gestures towards her child. Her husband, who wears French-style European clothing including a powdered wig, gazes down at the children with his hand either resting on his wife’s arm or his child’s back. The young servant looks upwards to the father. The family appears calm and harmonious, even loving. This is not always the case, however. Often as the series progresses, discord can erupt among families or they are displayed in tattered, torn, and unglamorous surroundings. People also appear darker as they become more mixed. Casta paintings from the second half of the eighteenth century in particular focus more on families living in less ideal conditions as they become more racially mixed. Earlier series, like Rodríguez Juáre’s, often display all families wearing more fanciful attire.
Detail, Spaniard and Indian Produce a Mestizo, attributed to Juan Rodríguez Juárez
But who commissioned these works and why? The existing evidence suggests that some of these casta series were commissioned by Viceroys, or the stand-in for the Spanish King in the Americas, who brought some casta series to Spain upon their return. Other series were commissioned for important administrators. However, little is known about the patrons of casta paintings in general. Yet, we can infer to a degree who might have commissioned such paintings. Because casta paintings reflect increasing social anxieties about inter-ethnic mixing, it is possible that elites who claimed to be of pure blood, and who likely found the dilution of pure-bloodedness alarming, were among those individuals who commissioned casta paintings.
Text by Dr. Lauren G. Kilroy-Ewbank
 “En la America nacen gentes diverzas en color, en costumbres, genios y lenguas. Del español y la yndia nace el mestizo, por lo común, humilde, quieto y sencyllo.”
 De español y de india, produce mestiso [sic].
Ilona Katzew, Casta Painting: Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005).
Ilona Katzew, Casta Painting: Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005).
Want to join the conversation?
- In the text, the father's hand is decsribed as "either resting on his wife’s arm or his child’s back," but isn't it obvious that his hand is actually caressing the child's head from the back?(7 votes)
- I agree with you! His hand is right behind the child's head.(5 votes)
- I was just wondering why do the children's skin tones appear darker as they get mixed because some of them have darker skin tones than their parents?(4 votes)
- In real life, this is more of a biology question - every person has more than 100 genes which determine their skin tone. Each child inherits a mix of genes from both parents, and which genes children inherit is entirely random.
Furthermore, not all inherited genes are actually expressed, so gene expression itself is somewhat random. Children might have skin that is similar to their parents, much lighter than their parents,
a lot darker than their parents, or anywhere in between.
However, in the fictional world of the caste paintings, children "appear darker as they become more mixed... [and these paintings often show] families living in less ideal conditions as they become more racially mixed." The caste paintings seem to reflect an attempt to create a taxonomy (or way to classify) different degrees of racial mixing, where one could say this type of mother + that type of father = this specific type of child.
To answer your question, while caste paintings may have been intended to discourage inter-ethnic mixing, they definitely reflect the idea that one can easily categorize people based on appearance and ethnicity. Although this idea may have seemed "rational" in the Enlightenment era, today it seems like an oversimplification (at best), and racist propaganda (at worst).
What is certain is that the paintings do reflect the attitudes and views of the patrons who had the financial means to commission these works of art.(10 votes)
- And so we see evidence of early "Eugenics" minded European thinking. This was very interesting to read about, but also rather disturbing. It is interesting that we don't know who would have commissioned these works. Anyone have theories as to who may have commissioned these "Casta" paintings?(3 votes)
- The article states that, "The existing evidence suggests that some of these casta series were commissioned by Viceroys, or the stand-in for the Spanish King in the Americas, who brought some casta series to Spain upon their return." However, I would assume that we will never be 100% certain about the circumstances of the commissioners.(2 votes)
- Hi everyone I'm a history teacher and I just thought that could help out on any questions you have let me know and I will be right with you.
Mr Moore(2 votes)
- hey Mr. Moore! Funny seeing you here. I dont have any questions at the moment but if I do I'll ask them in class tomorrow! :)(1 vote)
- Was it common to have such child servants at that time? There's also a hint of fondness when he's looking towards the father of the child.(0 votes)
- Rodriguez' painting, and others of that ilk, appear to be whitewash to me, attempts by Spanish colonists and creoles to claim that they were only doing good to the "other than withe" people in New Spain. A perspective more akin to Black Lives Matter shows an entirely different story. It's best to go to the website on the link below, but my edited version of some of the comments you'll find there gives a bit of the flavor.
The words below are adapted from http://mexicanhistory.org/colonial.htm
While Cortes was conquering the Aztec capital, no one in Spain was aware of it and Cortes conquest was without official recognition .... Cortes granted his soldiers encomiendas... which granted an entire town and its Indian population... The Indians owed them tribute as well as forced labor and was a thinly disguised form of slavery . The encomenderos were supposed to convert the Indians and look after their welfare....
The encomienda system... brought misery and death to many native people as it had in Cuba. .....when Spain tried to reform the system in the 16th century..... There was much opposition to this by the Spaniards in Mexico. . Over time as the Indians gained more rights the encomiendas faded away .(2 votes)
- what exactly happen to the tribe called " TAINO" when the spanish arrived in the island called Hispaniola(0 votes)
- This is from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ta%C3%ADno
The Spaniards who arrived in the Bahamas, Cuba, and Hispaniola in 1492, and later in Puerto Rico, did not bring women on their first expeditions. Instead, they raped Taíno women, resulting in mestizo children. The rape of Taino women in Hispaniola by the Spanish was also common. Scholars suggest there was also substantial mestizaje (racial and cultural mixing) in Cuba, and several Indian pueblos survived into the 19th century.
The Taíno became nearly extinct as a culture following settlement by Spanish colonists, primarily due to infectious diseases for which they had no immunity.(2 votes)
- Are the father's eyes closed?(0 votes)
- How do Casta paintings relate to the Caste system? Or do they not have any relations at all?(0 votes)